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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Accidental Segregation

Southwest Airlines is doing it right. I don't even know if they know that they are. I certainly didn't. I was annoyed at the "pick your own seats." I was even more irritated when they let people who had A seats board the plane before families. As I stood in line watching 60 plus people board the airplane that has a choose your seat mandate, I quivered in fear. We'd never get a row together. We'd all be stuck in middle seats. We'd have to ask people to move. We'd bang them with all our stuff. It would be a disaster.

But the plane we were on fit 125 people or so. So, we hurried down the aisle, looking at row upon row of singles, half at the window, half at the aisle, the middle predictably empty. We jostled ourselves farther and farther back, past the wings, toward the bathrooms. The people seated were good natured. They were still riding the high of being able to pick the best seats. An elbow knocked here or there didn't even phase them.

We made it to the back of the plane, which was empty. We had several entire rows to choose from. We set up across. I was at the window, the two babies next to me, each in her own (very expensive) seat. My husband sat on the aisle seat of the row directly across from us. A perfect formation of baby control. I had the duties of distracting and playing with the kids, keeping them in their seats. My husband had break-away duty, should either of the twins decide to make a run for it.

All of the families ended up in the back because that's where the empty rows were. We segregated ourselves. In this case, though, segregation is nothing but a good thing. Because when my kids decided it would be the best thing ever to kick the hell out of the seat in front of them, they were kicking a 12-year-old girl and her father. The girl found it funny. The father understood our plight and appreciated our hurried attempts to stop the madness. A childless person would not necessarily have been so understanding. But in the pick-your-own-seat scenario, at least they would take a bit of the onus upon themselves, for choosing a seat directly in front of toddler twins.

You see, just like regular travelers do not want to be bothered by families, for the most part, families do not want to bother regular travelers. In our family mecca at the back of the plane, no one needed to be embarrassed at the occasional tantrum or shout-fest. Everyone around understood. This makes traveling for us so much more pleasant.

As the people without priority tickets boarded next, we saw several pass up the middle seats at the front, hoping for a golden aisle or window seat in the back. Then they saw us. My husband heard a young woman, as she about-faced by our seats, shaking her head. "It's families back there," she told her companion. They took some middle seats up front.

This process leaves everybody happy. It knows them better than they know themselves. Should the families have boarded first, we'd have spread out, infesting the entire plane, not understanding that this decision would cause us all misery in the long run. Had the seats been assigned, everyone would have chosen seats they thought would be best for them at the time (because when sitting in your living room as your angels watch a video quietly, you think to yourself, I deserve a seat up front. I'm sure everyone will behave and no one will be annoyed.)

No, with this particular arrangement, the people on board first are so happy with their prime seating, they're okay with being banged and jostled as they watch the rest of the travelers find mediocre seats. The families get to sit together, something they would not have thought of had they been left to their own devices (at least, not collectively). The travelers who left their seating for last and have to settle for the dregs will turn from their middle seats every once in a while to look at the family section in back. They will heave a sigh of relief. We may have to sit between two strangers with no view, they'll think, but at least we don't have to deal with raucous toddlers and crying babies.

Everybody wins. Excellent work, Southwest. Excellent work.

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  1. I'd never, ever fly Southwest Airlines if that is their new policy. With 4 kids, there is NO WAY I am sitting at the very back of the plane. All those middle seats at the front, the people better get used to having a 4 year old seated between them, a 2 year old a few rows back. Have fun taking care of my child while you fly suckers! Nope, never going to happen. Horrendous.

  2. I agree. I hate flying and hate that I can't 'choose' to sit in a no-kid zone. I have had babies throw up on me on long haul overseas flights. Gross. I have had kids scream into my ear all night long, their parents out cold and did nothing.

    I am all for family sections on planes. They have all been there, done that. They will have, hopefully, more patience than me.

    Flying is a necessary evil and it would be nice if it was as smooth as possible on all fronts.

  3. Flew First Class to London from DC with my oldest when she was two. There was an obnoxious man really harassing for an upgrade - when he got it - he was directly behind us. After dinner, they dimmed the lights, he went to 'sleep' and my two yr old tried throwing her socks at him and singing him lullaby's - priceless!



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